The future of Asia Television, the city’s smaller free-to-air TV station, is in doubt, as one of its major shareholders, Tsai Eng-meng, seems unwilling to provide new funding.
Tsai, who became a shareholder in 2009, issued a statement Monday on the recent financial problems of the company, which failed to pay its staff their November salaries.
He said he believes his investment in ATV is still a valuable asset, as it is a reputable brand, and has no plans to sell his stake.
Tsai blamed Wang Zheng, ATV’s controlling shareholder, for the broadcaster’s failure to sort out its operations.
He urged him to complete the sale of his stake as soon as possible. Tsai said he will be happy to work with the new shareholder to create value for the broadcaster.
Tsai said he knew nothing about the broadcaster’s operations and financial issues, as management had not kept him informed although he was a major shareholder.
Meanwhile, Wang said his family has invested more than HK$2 billion in the company and it’s time for them to exit. He said he hopes other shareholders will fulfill their responsibility to solve its financial problems.
Poor corporate governance could spell the end of ATV’s almost six decades of troubled existence.
It’s quite clear that the main shareholders have no intention of solving the station’s problems. Wang and Tsai are still pointing fingers at each other over its difficulties, neglecting the welfare of its 2,000 employees.
ATV has long been regarded as one of the city’s pro-Beijing media, given its main shareholders are Beijing-friendly tycoons.
The businesses of both Wang and Tsai are based in the mainland. Tsai is one of the biggest makers of snack foods and beverages there.
However, the fact that both men are staunchly pro-Beijing failed to bring them together to work for the good of the broadcaster.
This indicates Beijing may not want to get involved in the ugly situation, so as to keep itself from being accused of intervening in the operations of Hong Kong media.
The Communications Authority, Hong Kong’s broadcast regulator, should arrive at its own judgment on ATV’s ability to fulfill the conditions of its license.
However, it is regrettable to see that the government is merely relying on its old tactic of sitting on its hands, trying to buy time to let the ATV controversy die down.
The authority, which is supposed to announce whether ATV’s license is to be renewed for another 15 years, has remained silent, even though the station’s staff threatened to stop producing news programs if they do not receive their salaries.
A suspension of news programs would breach the terms of ATV’s license, which would force the government to revoke it.
The government should go ahead and suspend the license, instead of giving to the main shareholders time to play word games with each other in an attempt to deflect any financial burden from themselves.
It is regrettable that Executive Councillor Starry Lee Wai-king, who is also a lawmaker from the pro-establishment Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, is defending extending ATV’s license so as to help the broadcaster secure new shareholders.
Lee’s stance is inappropriate, since the government should follow the law and licensing requirements in making its decision, rather than worrying about whether ATV can secure new shareholders.
The government should protect the employees’ interests in addition to the shareholders’ interests, as ATV is a broadcaster using public resources and not simply a private firm.
But business is still business.
If a company has been making losses for more than a decade, it has been proven to be a failure.
The best decision is to let it go bust, whether it is pro-Beijing or not.
The government should now fulfill its important roles of protecting the employees’ welfare and protecting the public’s interest in the use of broadcasting spectrum.
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